Judges are neither lenient “liberal pinkos” nor “bloodthirsty old men” handing out draconian sentences, declared Lord Bingham at his first press conference as Lord Chief Justice.

The country's most senior criminal judge, explaining his opposition to the extension of mandatory sentences as proposed by Home Secretary Michael Howard, said: “I don't adhere to the view that judges are out of touch. It's only a few years since judges were characterised as bloodthirsty old men never satisfied unless they were handing out draconian sentences. Now they're liberal pinkos who never punish a criminal, no matter what the crime. My view is that neither characterisation is close to the truth.”

He said he supported his predecessor Lord Taylor's view that justice was served by allowing judges to determine sentences in each case.

“I don't think there is a difference in views between myself and my predecessor, although he may have expressed them more forcefully,” he said.

Bingham said his press meeting, held now he had been in office four months and had “found his bearings”, continued the tradition of occasional press meetings started by Lord Taylor.

On rape cases he said he was against anonymity for defendants. On the Attorney General's new powers to refer too lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal he said he supported a widening of these powers. On anti-stalking laws he said recent precedents had helped and that there was a narrowing of the loophole in the existing law.